Republicans unveil a new demand in exchange for Ukraine aid

The original plan was relatively straightforward: The United States would respond to international crises abroad by approving an aid package, which would include support for Ukraine and Israel. For the White House and the bipartisan leadership in the Senate this seemed like the obvious way to go.

House Republicans balked. The far-right majority in the chamber said it was willing to advance an aid package for the Middle East — but only if Republicans could also help tax cheats in the United States — adding that support for Kyiv would have to be considered separately.

Complicating matters, a group of Senate Republicans have a new plan of their own. NBC News reported that several GOP senators are prepared to cut off aid to Ukraine altogether unless Democrats agree to changes in an unrelated matter: asylum policy.

The one-page plan — written by GOP Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — calls for a wide variety of changes, including raising the “credible fear” standard for asylum-seekers, curtailing officials’ ability to grant humanitarian parole and toughening penalties for illegal border crossings.

There are a couple of angles to this that are worth keeping in mind as the process advances. The first has to do with immigration reform.

From a purely political perspective, one of the things that helps separate immigration policy from other issues is the obvious room for a bipartisan compromise. Republicans want increased border security; Democrats want a pathway to citizenship; and both parties have expressed interest in overhauling asylum laws. There’s no reason, at least theoretically, that both sides can’t settle on comprehensive deal.

Indeed, both sides did settle on comprehensive deals during George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s terms, only to have far-right GOP members derail the bipartisan plans.

If Sens. Lankford, Cotton, and Graham want to work on changes to asylum policy, fine. As The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent explained in a good piece last month, there are smart and effective ways to go about pursuing this goal that would likely garner broad support.

But these Republicans have a different approach in mind. Instead of including reforms to the asylum process in an immigration deal, they’re effectively saying, “Give us the changes we want, or our Ukrainian allies will suffer.” The result, as a Washington Post report noted overnight, is that Ukraine funding is now “on life support.”

The other angle to keep in mind is the frequency with which GOP members see hostage strategies as go-to tactics. Ukraine’s future is on the line, and Senate Republicans don’t see an ally in need in a time of crisis; they see a bargaining chip that can be exploited.

I wonder how pleased Russia’s Vladimir Putin is with these developments.